Troubling the Angels: Women Living with HIV/AIDS

Troubling the Angels: Women Living with HIV/AIDS

Troubling the Angels: Women Living with HIV/AIDS

Troubling the Angels: Women Living with HIV/AIDS


Educator Patti Lather and psychologist Chris Smithies observed and chronicled support groups for women diagnosed with HIV. Whether black, Latina, poor, or middle class, the women in these groups share the common bond of living with HIV/AIDS, and they describe how it affects their lives in terms full of practical reality and moving poignancy, as they fight the disease, accept, reflect, live, and die with and in it. The authors weave into these accounts their own experiences as researchers, but also as women emotionally tied to the sufferings of sisters, mothers, wives, and lovers with HIV/AIDS. Finally, the reader is provided with statistics and fact boxes that put these women's words in context for a fuller understanding of the epidemic of HIV/AIDS as it affects its fastest growing population. In an epilogue, Lather and Smithies revisit these women in 1995 and 1996, not only to once again chronicle their lives with HIV/AIDS, but to visit the friends they had made and to mourn the friends they have lost.


The Women and the support Group Meetings

We begin by introducing the Ohio women whose stories are the heart of this book. Through their words, we take the reader into the experience of daily living with HIV/AIDS. The journey of each woman is uniquely her own, but marked by one common decision: to join a support group created specifically for women infected with HIV. It is through the support groups in Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati that we find these women. The support group is the backbone of this project. The women are the voice, the researchers are the hands and feet. Together, we write this book.

Originally, we planned to conduct multiple individual interviews. In the autumn of 1992, we met with one of the support groups to explore what questions we should use in the interviews. The women attending this meeting were spilling over with excitement and ideas; their talk became a dialogue of issues and feelings and insights. Group process was producing a form and level of collaboration that could not be remotely duplicated in oneon-one interviews, so the decision was made to maintain the group format for most of the data collection. As feminists, we were interested in working in participatory and collaborative ways, particularly in an area where efforts toward "knowing" have often been intrusive and exploitative.

Group interviews occurred from 1992-1993. We met with groups in their usual meeting places, which ranged from a living room in a home to meeting rooms in an AIDS community center or healthcare facility. After discussion of the project and confidentiality, each woman signed a consent form. The time was generally in the early evening; the meetings were marked by laughter, tears, self-disclosures, AIDS jokes, disagreements, hugs, and breaks for pizza. In addition to formal taping sessions with each group, we spent time with various participants at holiday and birthday parties, camping trips, retreats, hospital rooms, funerals, baby showers and picnics.

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